Lamin’s Nursery and Orchard

If you know Lamin personally, you’ll know how he likes to grow things! And one of his projects is to create a citrus orchard here at Balaba. Oranges grow well in The Gambia, but like everything else here, they’re very seasonal. When it’s the orange season, they’re easily found and very cheap, but then you have to wait until next year to enjoy oranges again. So Lamin decided to diversify.

Over the last few years, he’s grown over 300 trees from seed (in addition to several trees that were already growing here). These are germinated and brought on in his ‘nursery garden’ and once they’re big enough, they can be planted out in the bigger garden.

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Christmas in The Gambia 2020

People often ask me how we celebrate Christmas here in The Gambia, and the answer is: it varies! If you want to catch up with how we’ve celebrated in the past, then check out A Very Balaba Christmas and my post from Christmas 2012.

In previous posts, I’ve explained how it’s not a huge festival here, because The Gambia is a mainly Muslim country, but Christians do celebrate. Relationships between the different religions here are very positive (I think some Western countries could learn a few lessons from Gambia!), and at Christmas the Muslims keep essential services going so Christians can celebrate, and the Christians return the favour at Tobaski. Muslims will often visit their neighbours at Christmas too!

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I Feel Like a Migrating Swallow!

Every September, the swallows gather on the telephone wires outside the house ready to fly back to Africa for the winter. And every autumn, I also get myself ready and fly back to The Gambia. On 25 November 2019, I had to be at the airport at the extreme hour of 4:30 am, ready for an early flight, and as I sat on the plane waiting to taxi to the take-off runway, it was cold, dark and rainy.

After a six hour flight that went surprisingly quickly, we began our descent into Banjul Airport, and the captain announced that the weather was fine and sunny, with a temperature of 32 degrees. Just my kind of weather!

As always, it’s taken a while to get my internet connection set up again and get myself organised for updating the blog, but now I’m ready to get going again.

So hello again to my long-time followers, and welcome to my new followers. I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures, as well as the culture and lifestyle of The Gambia. I’m looking forward to sharing with you again.

PS: I’m having some problems getting connected to the internet, which is why it’s taken a while to get the blog updated. I’ve got a few more posts ready to go, so hopefully I can get them uploaded over the next few days!

How We Made Popcorn

Do you like popcorn? Somehow popcorn always reminds me of trips to the cinema when we’d buy a giant bucket and munch our way through (probably to the annoyance of those seated around us, although we did try to limit the crunching sounds!). Popcorn is a popular snack here too, especially as lots of people grow maize in the rainy season, so there’s always plenty of maize kernels around.

When my kids were young, we often used to make popcorn – there’s something magical about putting a small measure of maize kernels into a pan, listening to the popping sounds as it heats up, and then opening the lid to reveal the magically puffy popcorn at the end. So while the cousins were here over Christmas, I decided to make some popcorn for them all.

Here’s how we did it (and thank to Dodou for acting as official photographer!).

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Renovating Our Traditional Roundhouse

A while back, I wrote a post about Making Mud Blocks, and I mentioned that Lamin had removed the roof of an old hut. The hut was old, and the termites had wreaked their usual havoc with the roof, munching through the palm sticks that formed the framework for the roof, and the palm leaves that covered it. The roof had to go so we could knock down the walls of the hut and re-use the material for new mud blocks.

But I may have glossed over exactly how much work was involved in removing the roof and refurbishing the hut. So here’s how it was done…

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How Our Sheets Were Beautifully Tie-Dyed

In my last post, about the Triple C Youth Skills Centre, I wrote about the showcase held by the students at the end of the autumn term. Needless to say, we were really impressed with their skills, and before long we found a way to make good use of them.

In January, we were expecting several lots of guests who would be staying here. When Lamin and I were sorting out the bedding, we found lots of good quality cotton sheets that were still in great condition but looking a bit tired. Lamin had a flash of inspiration and suggested we ask the students at the Triple C to tie-dye them for us. Lamin’s nephew Yankuba agreed that it was possible, and he also agreed that I could go and watch how it was done. So the following Saturday, I went along to Kartong to watch the students at work.

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The Triple C Youth Skills Centre Showcase

In The Gambia, youth unemployment is a huge problem. School is not compulsory here, and although many younger children do attend, the drop-out rate as children go through secondary school is significant. Often young people end up with little education and no skills, making it very hard to compete in a small job market, and this is a major factor in many youths ‘taking the back way’ and trying to reach Europe, despite the dangers and massive risks involved.

One of Lamin’s nephews, Yankuba, is a carpenter, and for many years he’s had a dream to open a skills centre for the youths in Kartong. Recently, a Dutch foundation was formed to help get this project off the ground. It’s taken a lot of hard work and organisation, but in September a brand new skill centre opened – the Change Children’s Chances centre, commonly known as the ‘Triple C’.

Although it’s only been open for one term, just before Christmas they decided to showcase what their students have done so far, and Lamin and I were invited to the presentation.

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A Balaba Christmas Party

Even though The Gambia is mainly a Muslim country, the Christians here celebrate Christmas. The Muslims working in essential services like the police, the army and health care, stay on duty so their Christian colleagues can celebrate, (The Christians then return the favour at Tobaski, a big Muslim feast). This arrangement works well for everyone!

We usually have family visiting over Christmas itself, but our Christmas usually begins on 8th December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast is mainly celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, and acknowledges the conception of Mary, mother of Jesus. For Christians in The Gambia, this is an important pilgrimage day, when thousands converge on the shrine at Kunkujang (near Brikama), for Mass. The family then come back here to spend the rest of the day together celebrating.

This year was no different!

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Making Mud Blocks

Do you ever watch the TV programme Grand Designs? There’s something fascinating about watching people devise grandiose schemes for building or renovating a property and then seeing how the project turns out. There’s usually a few disasters along the way, which makes the programme even more interesting!

Well, we’ve been undertaking our own grand designs here at Balaba Nature Camp, and over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing some of them to you. But because we’ll be doing some building and renovation work, we’re going to need plenty of mud blocks, and unlike the UK, we can’t just pop down to the nearest DIY store and buy a heap of bricks! All our mud blocks are made by hand (usually by Lamin), which is tiring and time-consuming.

Over this last couple of weeks, Lamin has made over 200 mud blocks, and I thought you’d like to see how it’s done.

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